General tips

These concepts apply to all Ansible activities and artifacts.

Keep it simple

Whenever you can, do things simply.

Use advanced features only when necessary, and select the feature that best matches your use case. For example, you will probably not need vars, vars_files, vars_prompt and --extra-vars all at once, while also using an external inventory file.

If something feels complicated, it probably is. Take the time to look for a simpler solution.

Use version control

Keep your playbooks, roles, inventory, and variables files in git or another version control system and make commits with meaningful comments to the repository when you make changes. Version control gives you an audit trail describing when and why you changed the rules that automate your infrastructure.

Customize the CLI output

You can change the output from Ansible CLI commands using Callback plugins.

Avoid configuration-dependent content

To ensure that your automation project is easy to understand, modify, and share with others, you should avoid configuration-dependent content. For example, rather than referencing an ansible.cfg as the root of a project, you can use magic variables such as playbook_dir or role_name to determine paths relative to known locations within your project directory. This can help to keep automation content flexible, reusable, and easy to maintain. For more information, see special variables.

Playbook tips

These tips help make playbooks and roles easier to read, maintain, and debug.

Use whitespace

Generous use of whitespace, for example, a blank line before each block or task, makes a playbook easy to scan.

Always name plays, tasks, and blocks

Play, task, and block - name:’s are optional, but extremely useful. In its output, Ansible shows you the name of each named entity it runs. Choose names that describe what each play, task, and block does and why.

Always mention the state

For many modules, the state parameter is optional.

Different modules have different default settings for state, and some modules support several state settings. Explicitly setting state: present or state: absent makes playbooks and roles clearer.

Use comments

Even with task names and explicit states, sometimes a part of a playbook or role (or inventory/variable file) needs more explanation. Adding a comment (any line starting with #) helps others (and possibly yourself in the future) understand what a play or task (or variable setting) does, how it does it, and why.

Use fully qualified collection names

Use fully qualified collection names (FQCN) to avoid ambiguity in which collection to search for the correct module or plugin for each task.

For builtin modules and plugins, use the ansible.builtin collection name as a prefix, for example, ansible.builtin.copy.

Inventory tips

These tips help keep your inventory well organized.

Use dynamic inventory with clouds

With cloud providers and other systems that maintain canonical lists of your infrastructure, use dynamic inventory to retrieve those lists instead of manually updating static inventory files. With cloud resources, you can use tags to differentiate production and staging environments.

Group inventory by function

A system can be in multiple groups. See How to build your inventory and Patterns: targeting hosts and groups. If you create groups named for the function of the nodes in the group, for example, webservers or dbservers, your playbooks can target machines based on function. You can assign function-specific variables using the group variable system, and design Ansible roles to handle function-specific use cases. See Roles.

Separate production and staging inventory

You can keep your production environment separate from development, test, and staging environments by using separate inventory files or directories for each environment. This way you pick with -i what you are targeting. Keeping all your environments in one file can lead to surprises! For example, all vault passwords used in an inventory need to be available when using that inventory. If an inventory contains both production and development environments, developers using that inventory would be able to access production secrets.

Keep vaulted variables safely visible

You should encrypt sensitive or secret variables with Ansible Vault. However, encrypting the variable names as well as the variable values makes it hard to find the source of the values. To circumvent this, you can encrypt the variables individually using ansible-vault encrypt_string, or add the following layer of indirection to keep the names of your variables accessible (by grep, for example) without exposing any secrets:

  1. Create a group_vars/ subdirectory named after the group.

  2. Inside this subdirectory, create two files named vars and vault.

  3. In the vars file, define all of the variables needed, including any sensitive ones.

  4. Copy all of the sensitive variables over to the vault file and prefix these variables with vault_.

  5. Adjust the variables in the vars file to point to the matching vault_ variables using jinja2 syntax: db_password: "{{ vault_db_password }}".

  6. Encrypt the vault file to protect its contents.

  7. Use the variable name from the vars file in your playbooks.

When running a playbook, Ansible finds the variables in the unencrypted file, which pulls the sensitive variable values from the encrypted file. There is no limit to the number of variable and vault files or their names.

Note that using this strategy in your inventory still requires all vault passwords to be available (for example for ansible-playbook or AWX/Ansible Tower) when run with that inventory.

Execution tricks

These tips apply to using Ansible, rather than to Ansible artifacts.

Use Execution Environments

Reduce complexity with portable container images known as Execution Environments.

Try it in staging first

Testing changes in a staging environment before rolling them out in production is always a great idea. Your environments need not be the same size, and you can use group variables to control the differences between environments. You can also check for any syntax errors in the staging environment using the flag --syntax-check such as in the following example:

ansible-playbook --syntax-check

Update in batches

Use the serial keyword to control how many machines you update at once in the batch. See Controlling where tasks run: delegation and local actions.

Handling OS and distro differences

Group variables files and the group_by module work together to help Ansible execute across a range of operating systems and distributions that require different settings, packages, and tools. The group_by module creates a dynamic group of hosts that match certain criteria. This group does not need to be defined in the inventory file. This approach lets you execute different tasks on different operating systems or distributions.

For example, the following play categorizes all systems into dynamic groups based on the operating system name:

- name: Talk to all hosts just so we can learn about them
  hosts: all

    - name: Classify hosts depending on their OS distribution
        key: os_{{ ansible_facts['distribution'] }}

Subsequent plays can use these groups as patterns on the hosts line as follows:

- hosts: os_CentOS
  gather_facts: False

    # Tasks for CentOS hosts only go in this play.
    - name: Ping my CentOS hosts

You can also add group-specific settings in group vars files. In the following example, CentOS machines get the value of ‘42’ for asdf but other machines get ‘10’. You can also use group vars files to apply roles to systems as well as set variables.

# file: group_vars/all
asdf: 10

# file: group_vars/os_CentOS.yml
asdf: 42


All three names must match: the name created by the group_by task, the name of the pattern in subsequent plays, and the name of the group vars file.

You can use the same setup with include_vars when you only need OS-specific variables, not tasks:

- name: Use include_vars to include OS-specific variables and print them
  hosts: all

    - name: Set OS distribution dependent variables
      ansible.builtin.include_vars: "os_{{ ansible_facts['distribution'] }}.yml"

    - name: Print the variable
        var: asdf

This pulls in variables from the group_vars/os_CentOS.yml file.

See also

YAML Syntax

Learn about YAML syntax

Working with playbooks

Review the basic playbook features

Collection Index

Browse existing collections, modules, and plugins

Should you develop a module?

Learn how to extend Ansible by writing your own modules

Patterns: targeting hosts and groups

Learn about how to select hosts

GitHub examples directory

Complete playbook files from the GitHub project source

Mailing List

Questions? Help? Ideas? Stop by the list on Google Groups